tue 05/12/2023

DVD: Shell | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: Shell

DVD: Shell

A Highland father and daughter fight incestuous urges in Scott Graham's stark first feature

Love in a cold climate: Pete (Joseph Mawle) and Shell (Chloe Pirrie), his overly doting daughterBFI

There is a burgeoning of Scottish films that refuse to romanticise the Highlands and islands. Writer-director Scott Graham’s feature debut Shell does not satirize the capitalistic exploitation of the nation's heritage culture as do several of the movies directed by Ken Loach and written by Paul Laverty.

However, the braes and mountains surrounding Shell's single location, a remote petrol station by a loch, have a bleaker and more implacable presence than is usual in Scottish cinema. Yoliswa Gärtig's spare, wintry cinematography makes no concessions to pictorialism or iridescence -- browns, grays, and steely blues dominate. 

Shell is based on Graham’s 2007 short of that name and partakes of the same social disconnection as his Native Son (2010). The film’s eponymous protagonist (Chloe Pirrie), a restive 17-year-old living in isolation with her epileptic father, Pete (Joseph Mawle), is trapped as much by the wide-open spaces as by the meagre living quarters adjoining the rundown garage. Her long-repressed sexual yearnings stoke the hectic dances she does when cooking. How can she escape her barren existence, and does she know if she wants to?

The girl's mother having walked away when she was four, she and Pete, still grieving, have developed a codependency lately fraught with taboo longings. The more demonstrative Shell sniffs Pete for the scent of a prostitute when he returns from a night out. She demands cuddles and offers caresses that put him on guard.

In contrast, the attentions of a needy middle-aged man (Michael Smiley) and an unimpassioned youth (Iain De Caestecker, pictured above with Pirrie) leave her cold. The women she occasionally meets on the forecourt are mysterious to her. Unsurprisingly given her history, Shell responds more to a brisk young mother (Morven Christie), who shows no interest in her, than to an unhappily married holidaymaker, Clare (Kate Dickie), who shows concern.

Less felicitous than this psychological shadowing is the equating of Shell with a deer mown down at night by Clare and her husband (Paul Hickey) and butchered by Pete for venison. Nonetheless, Graham has made an impressively spare first realist feature, one that benefits greatly from the polarities of Pirrie’s energy and Mawle’s reserve. The filmmaker, the leads, and the five key supporting actors all talk on the disc’s making-of featurette – a pleasingly democratic touch.

Watch the trailer for Shell

Shell sniffs Pete for the scent of a prostitute when he returns from a night out


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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